Point And Line
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Etudes pour piano L. 136 (1915) [47:35]
Toshio HOSOKAWA (b. 1955)
Etudes I-IV for piano (2011-13) [31:56]
Momo Kodama (piano)
Rec. January 2016, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
ECM NEW SERIES 2509 [79:20]
Momo Kodama writes of this programme that these two cycles of Etudes have been collated into an interrelated dialogue, building on the "great and mutual interest between French and Japanese artists. Debussy, too, loved Japan and its culture." There is of course a century of musical change between Debussy and Toshio Hosokawa, but those who know Debussy's Etudes will also know how "each constitutes its own world," and that they were not necessarily intended to be played as an entire cycle as published. Likewise, Hosokawa's Etudes can exist in isolation or be enhanced by their context. We are invited to see the familiar anew, and to greet the unfamiliar on both its own terms and as a bridge between the past and the now, as well as a bridge between cultures.
My reference for Debussy's Etudes is that with Mitsuko Uchida (review) which can still be found on the 'Decca Originals' label after appearing in various guises from its original home on Philips. This is a remarkable recording, with each piece certainly creating its own world as well as presenting breathtaking technical marvels. Momo Kodama's performances have a different kind of atmosphere being more impressionistic than Uchida, who goes more full-throttle with the dynamics and extremes of contrast. Hosokawa's often pointillist style challenges today in the way Debussy would have challenged the romantic traditionalists of his day. Indeed, looking at antique books of music history you will see his name amongst the 'moderns', much as impressionist artists had been towards the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.
You have to step away from any idea of the new being a disruptor of the old if this sort of programme is going to work, but Hosokawa's music often has its own associations with the past. I can't help hearing some of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for instance in 2 Lines (Etude I), and you might hear echoes of Messiaen in the gently placed chordal colours of Lied, Melody (Etude VI). There are of course moments of angularity and aggression and a blurring of tonal boundaries, but with a short period of focussed listening Hosokawa's music turns out to be by no means as difficult as you might imagine. The contrasts between Debussy's visions with those of Hosokawa become those of a walk in a large garden. Not all of the plants are fragrant, and some are allowed to take nature's course and become somewhat unruly. The surprise is that it can as equally be Debussy's greenery that proves willful and hard to tame as it is Hosokawa's.
Many of Toshio Hosokawa's Etudes are dedicated to Momo Kodawa, and having performances flourishing from this kind of artistic relationship is always rather special. Kodama's Debussy is also pretty special, and this release is deserving of plenty of attention from seekers of fine piano recordings. The resonant acoustic of the Reitstadel is perfect for these performances, the piano captured in fine detail, but the lively atmosphere reflecting every nuance.